Photo by: Purwo Kuncoro

Two New Fossil Primate Species Discovered at Gona in Ethiopia

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Leakey Foundation grantee Sileshi Semaw from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), is coauthor of a paper published in the Journal of Human Evolution that describes two newly discovered primate species.

The fossil primates, called Pliopapio alemui and Kuseracolobus aramisiare, belong to the family of primates that includes baboons and macaques. They are dated between 4.8 and 4.3 million years ago and they are known only from Gona and the Middle Awash study area in Ethiopia. 

The fossil discoveries include upper jaws, mandibles and postcrania found from deposits that also yielded Ardipithecus ramidus, a hominin species first identified in the Middle Awash study area located to the south of Gona. Based on the abundance of various animal species, including monkeys, the ancient environment in which Ardipithecus ramidus lived was argued to be in a closed habitat with forests.

In addition to providing important information on the biological evolution of monkeys, these fossil discoveries provide critical information about the ancient environment in which Ardipithecus ramidus lived. Remarkably, differences in relative abundance of these fossil monkeys showed that at Gona Ardipithecus ramidus lived in open wooded habitats, which is different from the closed forested habitat documented in the Middle Awash.

“Therefore, our study shows environmental differences in the areas inhabited by Aridpithecus ramidus, one of the earliest hominins that lived at Gona and in the Middle Awash 4.5 million years ago,” says Sileshi Semaw.

Leakey Foundation grantee Sileshi Semaw in Gona in 2007. Dr. Semaw is holding a very early stone tool dated to between 2.5 and 2.6 million years old.

Ardipithecus and other hominins at Gona

Gona, located in the Afar triangle of the African Rift Valley in Ethiopia, has an archaeological record spanning millions of years.

Gona is one of the two paleoanthropological sites in Africa where the hominin species known as Ardipithecus ramidus has been discovered. Ardipithecus ramidus is among the earliest bipedal hominin species (walking on two feet) that lived in East Africa. Only Ardipithecus kaddaba (dated to 6 million years ago) and Sahelanthropus tchadensis (from Tchad in Central Africa dated to 7million years ago) are older than Ardipithecus ramidus. Fossils of Ardipithecus kadabba, dated to more than 6 million years ago, have also been discovered at Gona.

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